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Advertising through COVID-19: Lessons from past triumphs through adversity

Juliet Haygarth, Managing Director of Effie UK explains how community, building trust and employee engagement are key to brands emerging from this crisis stronger.

Juliet Haygarth, Effie UK

Managing Director

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Contrary to popular opinion, there is no new normal yet. The amount of speculation about what the future will look like is starting to feel a bit unhealthy. Better to remind ourselves that the world has gone through turbulent times before and we will emerge from this one too. 

Like every other organisation, the Effie’s is looking at what we can do now to respond productively to the situation we’re in. This isn’t the time to be planning tone deaf, swanky award ceremonies, but to focus on sharing insights and learnings that might just inspire a way forward. 

During the COVID-19 crisis, meaningful actions have become a significant measure of a brand’s outcomes but for marketers who still choose to invest in advertising, there are some principles that hold true in difficult times, whatever the specific challenges of each individual crisis.

The received wisdom is that brands are supposed to keep spending through a recession, and while the Effie’s archive data proves that to be true, it also shows that, as long as you keep investing, it doesn’t matter if your budgets have been pared back a bit.

After the global financial crisis, our 2009-2011 winners were evenly distributed between brands that spent $500,000 - $5m, and those that spent $5m to $40m. The ones that came out on top were not necessarily the big spenders, but the entries that emphasised creative; only 10% of winners in those years focused on media first.

Looking at winners in the aftermath of the financial crisis and the rise of populism, there are three main themes that stand out.

83%
of people want brands to connect people and help them stay emotionally close
84%
of people want brands to show how their products and services can help people cope with pandemic-related life challenges
60%
of people report turning more to the brands they are sure they can trust during the pandemic

Community and empowerment

Consumers are looking for brands that offer ways to respond positively to fearful or difficult circumstances, according to the most recent Edelman Trust Barometer. 83% of people want brands to connect people and help them stay emotionally close, while 84% want brands to show how their products and services can help people cope with pandemic-related life challenges.

In 2008, Häagen-Dazs’ US sales were plummeting as consumers responded to the recession by limiting luxury purchases. The ice cream brand focused in on its “all natural” proposition and campaigned to save its “all natural” workforce: honeybees. Häagen-Dazs raised awareness and money to protect the bee population through a fully integrated campaign and the effort increased revenues and brand awareness, and even provided an opportunity for the brand to testify on behalf of honeybees in Congress.

Building trust

At a time when consumers are fearful and uncertain, brands that are credible, confident and reassuring are the ones that build trust. Globally, 60% of people report turning more to the brands they are sure they can trust during the pandemic, the Edelman Trust Barometer shows.

The New York Times’ ‘The Truth is Hard to Find’ campaign was created against the tumultuous backdrop of the Trump administration and the rise of populism. Just like today, news outlets were seeing a sharp rise in traffic, but declining sales and advertising revenues, so the brand focused on demonstrating the values of the newspaper and its dedication to uncovering hard truths. The campaign put The New York Times at the heart of a conversation about the role of the free press, resulting in the best quarter for subscriber growth in the paper’s history.

As we move forward, it pays to take a glance behind us to examine how marketing has made a difference to both brands and customers.

Juliet Haygarth

Employee engagement

Employers are facing greater demands and reduced resources, but those that can keep their employees engaged might also find that they’ve hit on an effective route to consumers.

In 2010, pharmacy chain Walgreens ran a flu immunisation programme that started with employees, and, within five weeks, inspired 5.4m people to get a flu shot, up from 1m the previous year. The ‘Arm Yourself’ campaign appealed to busy adults’ instinct to protect their families and colleagues and helped the retailer capture 70% of the flu market.

The fundamentals of marketing effectiveness always underpin great work and never change whatever horrors or joys life is throwing at us. As we move forward, it pays to take a glance behind us to examine how marketing has made a difference to both brands and customers. There will of course be new lessons to learn from COVID-19 but any version of the new normal will surely benefit from a deep understanding of past triumphs through adversity.

Guest Author

Juliet Haygarth, Effie UK

Managing Director,

About

A curious mix of down to earth Northerner with an injection of Bermudan beach bum. Juliet has over 22 years’ experience of working across marketing, brand and communications. Her career has spanned the charity and public sector as well as the commercial sector. She has been a Marketing Director and worked in brand and creative agencies at every level. An agency leader for 10 years, Juliet has joined the Effie team as MD of Effie UK, to help them achieve their mission to lead, inspire & champion the progressive practice and practitioners of Marketing Effectiveness around the world.

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Crisis Communications